Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

April 17, 2014

Can monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing Internet traffic on specific flu-related Wikipedia articles.

David McIver and John Brownstein's model, publishing in PLOS Computational Biology on April 17th, estimates flu levels in the American population up to two weeks sooner than data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention becomes available, and accurately estimates the week of peak influenza activity 17% more often than Google Flu Trends data.

McIver and Brownstein calculated the number of times certain Wikipedia articles were accessed every day from December 2007 to August 2013. The model they developed performed well both through influenza seasons that are more severe than normal and through events such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 that received high levels of media attention.

The authors comment: "Each influenza season provides new challenges and uncertainties to both the public as well as the public health community. We're hoping that with this new method of influenza monitoring, we can harness publicly available data to help people get accurate, near-realtime information about the level of disease burden in the population."

Following further validation, the model could be used as an automatic system to model flu levels in the USA, providing support for traditional influenza surveillance tools.

Explore further: Younger adults hit hardest this flu season

More information: McIver DJ, Brownstein JS (2014) Wikipedia Usage Estimates Prevalence of Influenza-Like Illness in the United States in Near Real-Time. PLoS Comput Biol 10(4): e1003581. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003581

Related Stories

Younger adults hit hardest this flu season

April 15, 2014

(HealthDay)—The H1N1 flu was the predominant influenza strain in the United States this year, but it packed a lot less punch than in 2009 when it caused a worldwide pandemic, health officials report.

CDC: Child care flu vaccination requirements seem effective

March 8, 2014

(HealthDay)—Requiring the flu vaccination for child care admission seems to have increased vaccination rates and led to lower hospitalization rates for influenza in young children, according to a report published in the ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover rare flu-thwarting mutation

September 29, 2016

A rare and improbable mutation in a protein encoded by an influenza virus renders the virus defenseless against the body's immune system. This University of Rochester Medical Center discovery could provide a new strategy ...

Utah man may have contracted Zika from dying father's tears

September 29, 2016

A Utah man who mysteriously contracted Zika from his infected father may have got it by touching his dad's tears or sweat with his bare hands, according to new research unveiled Wednesday that found the unusual transmission ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.